By Lenny Bass
In the two articles I wrote for the Crazy Wisdom Community Journal entitled “Swaying In The Sangha Of Trees” (the second one being “The Tree-quel”), one of the basic ideas I was hoping to convey through my conversation with the tree was the possibility, through meditation practice, of cultivating the ability to persevere through difficult situations, whatever they might be.
“When the storms come,” the tree told me, “we trees sway. In this swaying, the soil beneath us is loosened and our roots are allowed to grow.”
Human beings, of course, are very different than trees. When the storms come, trees have very little choice other than swaying. They cannot “get into their mobility carts,” as the tree liked to call it, and flee. Human beings, however, can do just that. They can get into their mobility carts and flee whatever storms come their way.
If you stop to think of it, the premise of this very country itself was built upon this simple formula. It is based upon a group of people — in this case Europeans — fleeing in their “mobility carts,” otherwise called boats. They fled the hardships imposed upon them by an uncompromising monarchy and sought to create a better situation for themselves elsewhere. Somehow, somewhere in this country’s DNA since the time of its inception, is the notion that the way to make things better is to get into a mobility cart and flee. There are umpteen bazillion versions of this, if we really look with any amount of depth and honesty.
It begins with a perception: what “is” is not good enough. What ‘“is” could be made better. What “is” makes us suffer. What “is” is unsatisfactory. And suddenly, we are off. In our mind’s eye, we have a strategy for improvement; a better education, a better job, a better marriage, a better house, a better climate, more sun, less snow, and on and on.
We create a plan — a life plan, if you will — and we are on a path to get there, wherever it is our mobility carts are taking us.
The true gift of a meditation practice in which we become adept at learning how to sway is that it shows us in no uncertain terms the fallacy of the formula. If we track the process from beginning to end, we see the very same progression of events manifesting time and again. At first, we are happy to have found a path through which life may be made better. We follow this path with all due diligence until we have achieved our goal. Suddenly, we have it...whatever “it” is. We have the better job, the better house, the better husband or wife, the better climate. And then...it is “honeymoon” time. We happily relish whatever it is we have accomplished to make our lives better. Everything is wonderful and new and exciting. Then, continuing to track it, it grows, over time, to become “common place.” The sparks wear off, the cracks start to show. The new boss is a jerk, the new wife has wrinkles. We’re sick of the sun and wish it would snow. The new house has that much more maintenance we hadn't counted on. And so...we’re back to square one. How can we make it “better”? What is our new strategy? Move back to the old climate? Get a another new job? Find a new country to call home?
On and on it goes....until finally, somehow, sometime, we catch on. Getting into our mobility carts just isn't working. The process is always the same. The outcome never lasts. We’re always, time after time after time, back where we started. Dissatisfaction.
It is from this place that I believe ALL true meditation practice is born. And, it starts with a kind of commitment NOT to flee. To hang in. To persevere with whatever it is that is dissatisfying. In sitting meditation for long hours, the mind does everything it can think of to try to get us to flee. It’s boring. Our knees are hurting. It is a waste of time just sitting here doing nothing. It is “unproductive.” It won’t make things better. On and on, the mind keeps sending us these thoughts hoping to get us into another round of the formula we know just doesn't work. Sometimes we acquiesce; it is a habit, after all, this perpetual fleeing we have learned to do. Learning to “sway” with our circumstance just isn't in our vernacular. It’s never been taught to us. It is counter intuitive to “do nothing” about a bad situation.
And yet, as we continue to sit with whatever our circumstance happens to be, a transformation begins to unfold and a whole new way of life starts revealing itself to us. The longer we hang in there, the more we see it. No circumstance in life will EVER make us happy, for it is in the very nature of a circumstance to always be the victim of impermanence. Everything is forever changing. Nothing lasts forever. We are simply on a wild goose chase if we think our lives can be made better through a ride on a mobility cart.
We awaken to the moment, whatever that moment may hold. We embrace the moment, with everything it has to offer, the goodness, the badness, whatever it happens to be. Our circumstance is just a circumstance. Whatever it is, whether we like it or dislike it, it will change. Suddenly, we are free of the impulse to flee whatever it is. We gain the capacity to simply work with it, deal with it, negotiate with it, dance with it. By doing so, the circumstance itself becomes more pliable, more receptive, more amiable and amendable. What we thought was so very awful transforms before our eyes. Likewise, that hefty pot of gold becomes “eh, so what?” That too will change.
This is the gift of learning how to sway that I think would make the world a “better” place to live in (there he goes again....I hear you say!) Okay, maybe better isn't the right word. There is a temporary happiness that comes from changing a circumstance in our lives. There is a permanent happiness that comes from going beyond circumstances and embracing the moment. There are a thousand strategies to be temporarily happy....but just one to find a way that lasts. May we all learn to sway....just a little bit longer!
Lenny Bass is a long time meditation practitioner with deep ties to the Zen Buddhist Temple of Ann Arbor. His essay "Swaying in the Sangha of Trees: The 'Tree'-Quel" appeared in the January through April issue. You can read the first installment here. Leave a comment for Lenny below or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.